Call to action for Sydney construction

Nicholas McCallum

The boom is back on in Sydney and the NSW Construction crew are fired up. 

The NSW ETU’s drive for renewal and growth is one of the most significant reforms in our union’s 116-year history. The state's construction organisers are making deep changes to build numbers, activism and power across all sectors of the electrical industry.

Now the Electrical Trades Union across Australia has combined to launch the most significant NSW construction campaign for years.

ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks speaks with ETU members in construction.

The construction crew said it's time to meet head on the challenges of the re-introduction of the Construction Code of Practice and the ABCC. With more organisers taking on the construction and contracting industry, they are taking a more hard-line approach.

In July the team took its campaign to another level by having it led by ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks. Allen brings a wealth of experience from his days organising the Queensland construction industry and will draw on the best organising minds from all ETU branches.

The whole of the NSW Branch is behind the strategy of Allen overseeing the construction team as are ETU Branches across the country.

NSW construction crew: (L to R) Steve Bankes, Ben Lister, Lawrie Duff, Allen Hicks, Anthony Stegic, Fred Barbin.

ETU NSW Secretary Dave McKinley said: "It’s a huge plus to have Allen Hicks at the helm of our construction and contracting team. He brings vast experience, strong commitment and a proven track record of organising in this challenging sector."

"This is a great example of national solidarity that I’m confident will deliver on the ETU’s core mission of achieving the best possible outcomes for our members," said Dave.

Allen Hicks said the strategy is designed to build lasting power and raise standards across the industry.

"We’ve hit the ground running but this will take a sustained united effort. The aim is a much larger and more active union membership able to win significantly higher wages and better conditions," said Allen.

The construction strategy will target up to 50 electrical contractors who have failed to negotiate union enterprise agreements. The ETU will also seek to align enterprise agreement expiry dates at key contractors. This will set up a campaign to achieve significantly improved EBA outcomes in 2018 and beyond.

"The time is right to lift industry standards in construction and contracting. We’re smack in the middle of an infrastructure and construction boom the like of which Sydney has not seen since the 2000 Olympics," said Allen.

Allen has 'hit the ground running' as the NSW ETU reaches out to members during the Sydney construction boom.

ETU organiser Fred (C) with ETU construction members (L to R) David, John, Gary and Ernest, celebrating after union action recovered more than $23,000 owed to them.

"The big companies and contractors are raking money in hand over fist. Electrical workers are often on rates below those paid on comparable projects outside NSW. This campaign is about lifting rates for this and future generations of Sydney ETU members."

Of course, union officials alone do not make change. Real power to win comes from thousands of determined electrical workers fighting together in our collective interest. We are calling on all construction sparkies to get on board and help us build numbers, activism and power.

Three-day walk-off restores WestConnex tunnel safety

WestConnex has made its tunnels safe for work but only after 200 electricians and sprinkler fitters walked off the job for three days in late-July.

The ETU and Plumbers Union members first took action on 26 July when emergency sirens failed to sound during an evacuation drill.

Construction Organiser Tony Stegic addresses WestConnex workers about sub-standard safety and evacuation procedures at Australia's largest infrastructure project.

They gathered at safety muster points outside the tunnel rather than continue working deep underground without a failsafe emergency response system.

Safework inspectors attended the site but, in the ETU’s view, made the mistake of issuing an Improvement Notice instead of a stronger Prohibition Order.

A management proposal to signal emergencies by turning off tunnel lighting was rejected by workers who insisted on a functioning audio alarm.

Electricians and sprinkler fitters refused to enter the tunnels on the following Monday and Tuesday before project management restored the integrity of the emergency system.

While welcoming this resolution, the ETU slammed the serious safety failure on the largest transport infrastructure project in Australia.

"We’re disappointed at management’s failure to act quickly and decisively to solve such a major safety problem," said ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks.

ETU Organiser Fred listens to WestConnex workers' safety concerns.

"We’re also disappointed at the regulator’s unwillingness or inability to ensure workplace safety laws were being followed on the NSW Government’s flagship infrastructure project."

ETU organiser Fred Barbin said workers had advised the union that they were deeply concerned about their safety should an emergency occur.

"We will always support our members’ right to work safely and return to their families each day. We will never accept bandaid solutions to serious safety breaches, such as the suggestion that tunnel lights be turned off in emergencies in lieu of emergency sirens," said Fred.

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